Skepticism

Make your own phantom footprints

This week, I accidentally discovered a cool way to freak out your friends. How did I figure this out? Well, I totally freaked myself out.

I had a bit of a health scare the other day, and wound up spending most of the evening in the ER. I’m probably alright, just have to go in for some follow up testing to be sure. Anyway, coming home from the hospital, and feeling a bit groggy and out of it, I half noticed something very strange: It had been drizzling a bit, and on the deck in front of our house was a pair of wet footprints surrounded by a dryish area. I was too relieved to be home to give it a second thought at the time.

Then, last night, home alone and watching the X-Files, I started to think about the footprints again. How the hell could they have possibly gotten there? The only plausible explanation I could think of at the time was that somebody who’d been walking around barefoot in the rain had stood on my deck for long enough to create a dry, shaded spot under them, and then left just before we got home. WTF?! So there I was, alone in a house in the middle of nowhere, half thinking I had some sort of creepy back woods stalker after me (and half knowing there had to be another explanation). Regardless, I was relieved when Tim3P0 got home from work.

This morning, it’s raining again, and upon further investigation I’ve figured out the source of the phantom footprints.

Sunscreen.

A few days ago, I stood in that very spot to apply spray on sunscreen before mowing the lawn. Its water repellant qualities are creating the dry spot on the deck, and where my feet blocked the spray, the wood gets wet as it normally would, creating the wet footprints. COOL!

It’s been raining steadily most of the morning, so the wood is a bit wetter than it was the first time I noticed it; the effect is most stunning in a very light drizzle.

A just so inclined practical joker could use this knowledge to her/his advantage by creating all sorts of fun rain revealed designs. You could do “crop circles”, write messages, or a make whole path of footprints (human or otherwise)…but, a good skeptic practical joker always reveals the trick, or at least the fact that it is a trick, because this is a great way to show people that they can be fooled, and how a first instinct that something can’t possibly be explained rationally is often shown to be false with just a bit more thought and imagination.

Have fun, kids.

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9 Comments

  1. During The X-Files you think of this? Nice timing – although I do admit that, really, when else would something like that spring back to mind? I suppose it could have been worse: you could have been watching Paranormal Activity or Texas Chainsaw Massacre when your imagination started running away with you…

    Neat trick, though. I’m saving that one in the dusty recesses of my mind.

  2. Isn’t the shroud of Turin already a reverse Jesus face? So you could start with that.

    Or add dinosaur feet, make your own Paluxy deck.

    Obligatory niece story: When my (budding paleontologist) niece was 4, she discovered that when people walked across the wooden deck by the pool at the vacation house we were staying at, they left foot prints that evaporated in about 30 seconds. She was doing all kinds of funny tricks with them, like walking backwards (makes the “newest” prints disappear first), merging trails, having someone carry her part way to make mysterious gaps, etc. Kept her (and us) entertained for about half an hour, then I had to go off and search the woods for the perfect stick to make the skull of a Pteranodon model she was constructing…

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